Cope Thunder, first flown in 1976, provided air-to-air, air-to-ground, and combat support missions against a realistic set of real and simulated threats, say PACAF officials. “This Cope Thunder was our Air Expeditionary force spin-up for any tasking the Air Force needs us to support,” said Lt. Col. Dean Anderson, commander of the 18th Fighter Squadron, Eielson AFB, Alaska. During the two-week employment phase of the exercise, Anderson noted, every conceivable combat threat is thrown at the aircrews—many of them young pilots getting seasoned “without getting shot at.” For those who need more reality, some aircrews do get to practice getting rescued. Oh, yes, Blue won.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.